Thursday, March 26, 2009

HKIFF 2


Another rainy windy day that sends a cool chill whipping around. Not too nice for sightseeing but just fine for moving going. Three more films seen. And all of them terrific. Two of them dealt with Islam and faith in very different ways. The first one was Talentime, the latest film from one of my favorite directors, Yasmin Ahmad from Malaysia. As in her previous films that comprise the Orked trilogy, Yasmin explores the themes closest to her heart of faith, tolerance, family and living in a multi-cultural society. The film is less moody and more narrative than her previous efforts as she widens her net and follows three families - a mixed Malaysian family that is very much like the one in Orked, an Indian family composed of a widow and her two children and another Malay family of a dying mother and her son. The thread that brings them together is a Talentime - a high school talent show in which a child from each of the three families are involved. The film initially appears to be a lighthearted comedy but as the lives of these families spill over and interact, it takes on a powerfully emotional resonance that is at times wrenching. There are a few false notes here - primarily in the form of an English grandmother - and the directing at times felt lax - but in the end her humanistic voice and a simple plea to love each other is what will be remembered.


Next up was an Iranian film titled The Book of Law that took me very much by surprise with its puckish and at time Woody Allen type humor. It is a real treat. A small group of NGO Iranians visit Beirut each year for a meaningless meeting that allows them to eat well and enjoy the sights for a few days before heading back to Tehran. Rahman is a middle aged balding gentleman who has a mother. aunts and a pair of sisters at home constantly looking for a worthy wife for him. But instead he becomes mezmerized by Juliet, a lovely blond Lebanese Christian translator who can quote the great Persian poets. Back home, Rahman pines for her and returns to look for her - only to discover that she has converted to Islam and loves him. They marry and go home where the fireworks begin between Juliet, now renamed to Amanam, and the women folk in Rahman's household who look on her as an outsider (who shockingly wore shorts when she was ten years old!). Matters aren't helped when Amanam begins showing them the falsity of their ways by quoting the Koran at them. Very much a gentle humorous poke in the eye of hypocracy, intolerance and how religion is practiced, one has to be a bit surprised that this got past the Iranian censors - but maybe they have a sense of humor too (hmmm doubtful). Underneath the humor though grows a surprisingly poignant love story which is what really makes the story special. See it if you can.
The third film seen - some little unknown film called Peking Opera Blues directed by someone with the odd name of Tsui Hark. It wasn't bad!

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